Wednesday, August 19, 2015

EPL Week 2 Recap

United have been less than impressive in their opening two games with real questions emerging about whether Wayne Rooney can any longer lead the line, but they have six from six and two clean sheets after their 1-0 victory over a hobbled Aston Villa on the back of the same scoreline against Tottenham. Speaking of that other team from North London, they have a measly point from two games and must be scratching their heads after giving up a two-goal lead against a much-improved Stoke City, led by the rejuvenated Mark Hughes. The questions of whether the very talented Harry Kane can replicate his form from last year are also important to consider, though two games is not a good sample size. Everton will also be happy after a 3-0 victory over a Southampton team that is suffering through a second straight summer of selling their top players. Arsenal rebounded from the opening weekend loss at home to take all three points from Crystal Palace in the third 2-1 score line in a row. In the marques game of the weekend, City absolutely demolished last year’s run away champions 3-0. And Liverpool finished Week 2 with a lucky 1-0 win, including a goal that should have stood against and a goal for that involved a player clearly offsides, according to the new rules.

Some thoughts on Week 2 of the new season:

1. Southampton Exodus: What a team they would be if they had found a way to keep the many stars they have sold over the years. In just the past two summers, they have lost three right backs in Luke Shaw, Colum Chambers (who will probably become a CB at Arsenal) and Nathaniel Clyne. They lost Lallana in the attacking midfield and Schneiderlin in a more defensive slot. They lost a quality centre back, Lovgren, as part of their “feeder club” status to Liverpool as well, even as he failed to live up to the hype last season. If we go further back, we can add Theo Walcott, ironically struggling to get into the starting 11 at Arsenal even after signing a new contract at 140k pounds a week. And of course there is that Top 5 player who was the most expensive transfer in history (Gareth Bale to those not paying attention). What a starting team that would be – and it doesn’t even include a few others over the years …

2. Ireland Renaissance: Tottenham were leading 2-0 and looking like a good bet to close the game out against Stoke at White Hart Lane. And then Steven Ireland of Man City yore came on and completely turned the game around. The incisiveness of his passing suddenly started catching Tottenham off their lines and, after a penalty brought Stoke back to 2-1, a delicious cross from Ireland was finished off by Diouf to even things up. Stoke held on for the draw and a well-earned point, while Tottenham’s defensive woes intensified. Kane went off with a calf injury in the second half and that seemed to completely disarm their offensive impetus and the team will hope it is a short-term problem, as they do not seem to have the firepower to garner enough points without the young star, who really does impress with his passing, vision and holdup play, to go with the impressive goal scoring record last season.

3. Everton Roar: it's unclear whether Roberto Martinez's precarious hairline could take another season like the last one without offering up the Full Monty. It will take some hope from the comprehensive 3-0 victory at Saint Mary's coming on the back of the comeback for a point against Watford in the 2-2 opener. He will be happy with Kone, who has two assists in two together with two players he needs to perform better this season showing their capability to turn games around. Lukaku scored a brace (after only scoring 10 all of last season) and Barkley chipped in a fine goal and assist to accompany his screamer from last week. The clean sheet will be welcome as well after shipping 50 goals last campaign (10th in the league) when they finished 22 point below their total from 13-14.

4. Arsenal Goalkeeping Circus: Ex-Arsenal goalkeepers are, quite ironically, filing spots for a few teams around the world at present. Fabianski is the number one for an impressive Swansea City, Mannone started for Sunderland last year (though he is now second choice) and now Carl Jenkinson, yes that right back who lived out the dream of briefly starring for his childhood team, was forced to deputize for a red carded Adrian in the closing minutes of West Ham’s 2-1 loss to Leicester City. Speaking of those great escape artists Leicester, they now have six from six themselves, sitting tied at the top of league. How many would have predicted that? On the other end of things, Sunderland might be finally living up to their destiny of ending their run in the Premier League, with Dick Advocaat probably wondering why he isn’t sitting on a beach in the South of France rather than torturing himself through another relegation battle. The fans were so put off by the effort, they left in droves midway through the second half, even as there is a plenty of time to change that fatalistic narrative for a third year running. And even there sponsor, Dafabet, has them at 5/8 odds to be relegated at the end of the season.

5. Man City Impress; Chelsea in Crisis: Chelsea appear to be more vulnerable defensively in the early going of the season, too often allowing opposing teams to break on them or play around the box without sufficient pressure. In their game against City, Begovich was forced into three excellent saves in the first 15 minutes to deny City an early lead and then saved by a poor touch from Aguero in the 21st minute when most of the goal was gaping (from a great Kolarov cross). In the 31st minute, after Chelsea had begun to grow into the game, City put together a long string of passes finished off by Aguero, who too easily rounded the Chelsea defenders from the top of the box after a cushioned pass from Toure set him in and finished past Begovich smoothly. City had a few more chances before halftime and after being more solid defensively for most of the second half, Vincent Kompany sealed the victory with a nice header back across goal from a corner before a bad pass from the penalty area by Fabergas led to a third from Fernandino. Chelsea have thus failed to win a game since the preseason began, have already shipped five goals and find themselves five points behind both teams from Manchester after only two games. Mourinho must be wondering what is going on and what to do to change things before this grows into a real crisis while City is extremely impressive, with Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany both looking like their old selves, Aguero continuing to impress and an array of talent that will scare every opponent they meet. The latest issue revolve around the plundering form of Ivanovich and the controversy around Mourinho subbing out his captain for the first time in a league game over his two spells with the club.

6. United L(ack)luster: United has, as I mentioned above, taking six points from six to start the season and backed that up with a comprehensive 3-1 victory over Club Bruges in the first leg of their UCL qualifier. Depay, in particular, was impressive contributing two excellent goals and the pinpoint cross that gave Fellaini the third, but he is still young and unlikely to replicate that form week in and out. United has been solid at the back for most of Van Gaal’s reign, actually leading the league in defense since last November 1, but the offensive end is where things get more complicated. Mata will chip in goals, as it appears will Depay, but what about the declining form of their reminted striker? Rooney is in the midst of a scoring drought, which happens to all strikers, but he is also a player that has played over 660 games during his already lengthy career. That is over 60 more than the ironman of United yore, Giggs, who was never as physical a player as Rooney. Could the veteran be past his prime already at 30? There are indications this might be the case, as he seems a little slow, a little rusty and not fully in the game. Schweinsteiger and Scheinderlin will shore of the midfield, but after losing out on Pedro and unsure if they can get any of their striker targets, a dearth of goals might stand in the way of challenging for the title.

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